For aging stars like Luka Modric (37) for the Croatians or Eden Hazard (31) and Kevin de Brunye (31) for the Belgians, the last chance for a title at a World Cup is probably at stake, with the situation for the “Reds Teufel” is more difficult than for the Vice World Champion. Austria’s opponents in the upcoming European Championship qualifier must win in order to reach the round of 16.
After the 2-0 defeat by Morocco, there were reports of serious tensions within the Belgian selection, and harsh words are said to have been spoken in a meeting. “It was important to say a few things,” said midfielder Timothy Castagne. “We saw straight away in training that some things went better afterwards.”
Belgium hopes for Lukaku comeback
Castagne also draws confidence from the possible return of Romelu Lukaku. The goalgetter completed his first World Cup appearance after recovering from a muscle injury in the finish against Morocco. “Romelu is a very important element in our team. When he plays, he helps us enormously.”
In theory, Belgium could also progress with a draw – but only if Morocco loses heavily against Canada. Therefore, team boss Roberto Martinez does not waste any thought on this scenario. “If we don’t win we’re out, there’s no doubt about that,” the Spaniard clarified. According to Martinez, his side struggled to cope with the pressure in the first two games. “We weren’t happy, we felt too much responsibility. Every player was afraid of losing.”
FIFA World Cup 2022, Group F
Thursday, 4 p.m.:
Croatia – Belgium
Al Rayyan, Ahmad bin Ali Stadium, SR Taylor (ENG)
Croatia: Livakovic – Juranovic, Lovren, Gvardiol, Sosa – Modric, Brozovic, Kovacic – Vlasic, Kramaric, Perisic
Belgium: Courtois – Alderweireld, Verthongen, Dendoncker – Castagne, Tielemans, Witsel, Carrasco – E.Hazard, De Bruyne – Lukaku
Captain Eden Hazard believes in a clear increase. “We’re still at a high level and we’re here to win. We recently lacked self-confidence, we have to work to regain that,” said David Alaba’s club colleague at Real Madrid. Hazard denied quarrels within the team. “Everything has been clarified, everyone has said their opinion. Now we have to show our performance on the pitch.”
Croatia believes in “big fight”
Croatia’s team boss Zlatko Dalic did not want to attach much importance to the alleged disagreements with the Belgians. “I don’t pay much attention to media stories and rumours. They have De Bruyne, they have Eden Hazard. I’m expecting a big fight. They have quality, they have strength. You can’t forget to play soccer overnight. Nor can they have become bad players overnight.”
Dalic sees his team well prepared. “We have qualities and we have confidence in our qualities,” emphasized the coach, who doesn’t see many reasons to change his team after the impressive 4-1 win against Canada. Dalic assumes that Lukaku will start. That will change the game, he predicted.
Only Canada stands in the way of Morocco’s fairy tale
Morocco has a good chance of qualifying for a World Cup round of 16 again after 36 years. Something that few would have thought possible a few months ago. Only the game against the Canadians, who have already been eliminated, stands between them. A draw would be enough for the “Atlas-Löwen” to climb. Canada would like to at least sweeten the World Cup farewell a little.
The 2-0 win against Belgium can be described as quite historic for Morocco. It was only the third win ever in the sixth World Cup participation, the first for the country in 24 years. In France 1998, the Moroccans won their last group game against Scotland 3-0 but were eliminated in the group with Brazil and Norway. This time the North Africans have four points going into the final day of the group stage and could even afford a loss to Canada should Croatia beat Belgium.
“We are here to make history and qualify for the next round. I would be lying if I said otherwise,” said coach Walid Regragui. “We’re highly motivated, we’re well prepared, but the players mustn’t lose their heads. We know we haven’t achieved anything before the referee blows the whistle.”
FIFA World Cup 2022, Group F
Start 4 p.m. (live ORF1):
Kanada – Marokko
Doha, Al Thumama Stadium, SR Claus (BRA)
You have: Borjan – Johnston, Vitoria, Miller – Buchanan, Eustaquio, Osorio, Hutchinson, Davies – David, Larin
Morocco: Bounou – Hakimi, Aguerd, Saiss, Mazraoui – Amrabat – Ziyech, Ounahi, Amallah, Boufal – En-Nesyri
Internal quarrels are history
Everyone would have dreamed of this starting position before the tournament, especially since a few months ago it looked as if internal quarrels could spoil the World Cup adventure. Coach Vahid Halilhodzic was sacked in August. The Bosnian had fallen out with the two top performers Noussair Mazraoui and Hakim Ziyech, which led to resistance in the team to continue under the 70-year-old.
The federation brought in Regragui, a man who had once worn Morocco’s jersey and won 44 caps as a defender. As a coach, the 47-year-old drew attention when he guided Wydad Casablanca to victory in the African Champions League that year. He is also called “Moroccan Guardiola” – and the reference to the Spanish star coach does not only come from the fact that both are bald. He also shares a love of tactical finesse with the Manchester City coach.
Canada speculates on first World Cup victory
Canada may have already been eliminated but can still make history in the last World Cup match for the next three and a half years. Alphonso Davies scored the first goal in the 4-1 draw against Croatia, but the “maple leaves” are still without a point. “This is a great opportunity for another step forward. We want to make history again,” emphasized coach John Herdman. At their first World Cup participation in Mexico in 1986, the Canadians had to say goodbye without a point or a goal. In 2026, Canada will be co-hosts with the United States and Mexico.
According to Herdman, his team in Qatar have already achieved many of the overriding goals. “This tournament should trigger something, be an initial spark. You can also go to a World Cup and just defend 90 minutes. But that’s not what we’re here for. We wanted to make people proud and anticipate what’s to come,” said the Englishman. “The kids at school saw us here. You saw Davies’ goal. You now know that we are a football country. You can no longer deny that.”